Sorrow and Extinction

Band: Pallbearer
Album: Sorrow and Extinction
Best song: “Foreigner” is magnificent.
Worst song: Oh, man. Every song on this album is great.

Most metal is more of an aesthetic pleasure than it is an intellectual one, largely because the more satisfying metal bands are ones that trod the same lyrical themes over and over. The best subgenres — doom metal being the operative one for me lately — are ones that have a very distinct musical language but also have a very distinct lyrical and naming language. The bands have names like Weapon or Funeral or Death and their albums are called things like Epicurean Mass or Lamentations. **

Which is to say that I do not care about whatever the fuck the dudes in Pallbearer are doing lyrically. It doesn’t matter. It’s not important that the record is named Sorrow and Extinction. I don’t care that the song titles include “An Offering of Grief” and “Given to the Grave.” I’m not interested in the fact that the band’s website’s “about” bit says simply “A PLACE OF MOURNING FOR THE SERVANTS OF THE DEAD.” I don’t care that the cover art has the Grim Reaper on it. It’s not interesting. If I cared about the weird Satan-y or death fetishization, I’d go for Ghost. Those motherfuckers know what’s up.

Even with all this nonsense, Sorrow and Extinction is in the running for the best album of 2012. It won’t have the far-reaching appeal of a lot of records that everyone loves; the shortest song on the record is 8:17 and the best song doesn’t even kick off its main sections for a full two and a half minutes. It’s a largely inaccessible record that builds before it tears down. Indeed, the Arkansas band’s construction of the album opener is a study in this. “Foreigner” starts innocuously, with a beautiful instrumental — almost classical, in fact — slow build acoustic guitar segment. Then, at the 2:33 mark, a feedbacked guitar tears the acoustic one down and drudges the song along. A doubled guitar line, sounding like a combination of Tom Schulz’ solos on the first Boston record and the tears of God himself, enters and brings the song toward a third movement. A full minute later, vocals come in and Brett Campbell’s voice soars over the record. Moving at a slow tempo, the guitar fills in the gaps of Campbell’s brief bits. This, of course, is simply the first five minutes of a 12-minute song.

The album goes from there, moving from more Sabbath-esque riffing (“The Legend”) to the Slint-y midsection of “Given to the Grave.” The record’s strength, of course, is in restraint. Doom bands are expert in such things, but the dudes in Pallbearer are PHDs in playing the notes that arent’ there as much as those that are there. The silences in “An Offering of Grief” are just as important as the atmospheric synths of “Given to the Grave” or the doubled harmonic guitars throughout the record.

I’ll refrain from ranting about the rise of the MP3 ruining the audible fidelity of recorded music — needless to say, I don’t love it — but I will say that even on encoded digital music, there are some albums that remain distinctly headphone records. The type of albums that need to be absorbed through a good set of speakers with heavy bass. Doom produces a lot of records like this, as the tempo of the music allows it to wash over you more than quicker tempo stuff. Indeed, the mark of a great record is one that you can get more from each listen and get more from closer listens. Sorrow and Extinction is such a record. Each time I listen to it, I find more to love and more to deconstruct.

A brief aside: On some level, we have Black Sabbath to blame for this. While Zeppelin was also creating the other half of the genre’s musical themes (along with some lyrical fascinations with the fantastical/Tolkien), Sabbath was more heavily influencing everything to come after them with heavy riffs, dark lyrics and the like. Needless to say, there is no Pallbearer without “Children of the Grave” or “Electric Funeral.”

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    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

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